Self-Editing is the best option if you write short articles/posts. For longer pieces like books, novels or novellas, you would ideally engage a professional.
Before you proceed with polishing your post though, it would be well to understand the challenges first. The biggest challenge is: one usually misses out on spotting one’s own typos and errors. If you are anything like me, you want to hit Publish first and talk later. If you do re-read your post—and that’s a big IF—you probably give it no more than a skimming glance. Even if you’re a better person—as many are—your mind plays tricks on you and smoothly replaces the wrong word with the right one as you read. #TrueStory.
I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it. ~ Don Roff Click To Tweet
Apart from the use of the expletive in the quote above—which is not my personal style—the suggestion is bang-on. If you aren’t willing to be brutally frank with your own work, stop writing and turn to a more sedate hobby.
To circumvent this exasperating challenge, there are two tried and tested bits of advice by all the best writers.
- Write a piece and leave it alone for at least a week or two. In the meanwhile, write other posts. When you return to the post, you will be able to approach it as someone else’s writing—and spot all the errors that you might have missed in your own work.
- Read the post aloud. The mind may replace words as you read silently, it cannot do it when you’re reading aloud. Also, reading aloud will show you sentences which sound clunky, long-winded or just wrong.
When you are ready to edit, here are the steps you can follow which will ensure that your article/ post meets with your personal standards of content quality and is consistent with your writing style:
The first round of editing is to make sure your content is logically structured so that it flows smoothly, building upon one idea after another.
Headers and lists give structure to non-fiction writing. If your post tells a story, does it follow an arc (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement)? How are its sequential, chronological and causal flows? Are there any gaps in the narrative—which appear because often one writes something and then either moves it to some other place or deletes it entirely?
Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings. ~ Stephen King Click To Tweet
A well-structured post or story also makes it essential to cut out the excess weight and make it trim. Anything that does not contribute to carrying the main idea forward, needs to be killed ruthlessly. It might be a fine piece of writing that you are loath to part with. If so, copy it to another document and use it elsewhere. Don’t load your work with dead-weight that takes away from the sparkle of the post idea by pushing it into irrelevant by-lanes, however beautiful.
Once your structure is in place, you must focus on your style. Long-winded sentences, use of active or passive voice, instances of verbiage or filler words (like that, which and very) and the use of jargon, are all attention worthy issues. Nothing is as exhausting as to read a complex, clunky sentence you’ve forgotten the beginning of by the time you reach the end, panting. Editing your style to keep it simple is you being kind to your reader.
In the second round of editing, you would look for consistency errors. These errors are often overlooked. In fact, many people believe that proof-reading their work is about all the world may expect of them. Once they are done with proof-reading, their editing is done.
A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. ~ Richard Bach Click To Tweet
The following inconsistencies will put a reader off as surely as a misused homophone. Whichever convention you use in your work, ensure that it is consistently followed. Don’t, for example, follow British spellings in one sentence and the American spelling in the next!
- Usage of contractions vs. no contractions
- Verb tenses in sentence-to-sentence
- Abbreviations (United States or US)
- Punctuation with abbreviations (USA or U.S.A.)
- British Spelling (colour) vs. American Spelling (color)
The good news is, this can be consciously kept in mind while writing. With time these conventions will become a part of your writing style and you will automatically follow your preferences as you write. Piece of cake!
The last step is to check your post for style and consistency to get the pesky, minor irritants out of the way. These include:
- Spelling errors: With spell-checkers built into the word-processors, spelling checks are nearly all taken of—or so we think. The spellings we need to check now are the typos which are valid words themselves which have been used out of context. ME instead of BE, THE instead of THEY and so on.
- Punctuation errors: You would not only need to check the placement of the punctuations but also make sure they have the right spaces around them. The rule regarding spaces around punctuations designates no space before the punctuation and one space after it.
- Grammatical error: Tenses are the most common grammatical trip-ups. Subject-verb agreement errors, homophones and wrongly used apostrophes are the most common grammatical errors.
The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads. ~ Dr Seuss Click To Tweet
Chances are, you surely follow some of the steps and more or less ignore the rest. The truth is, since the emphasis is always on polishing your writing, never on editing what you have churned out, you aren’t the only one who has been careless with reviewing your work. But that’s no reason you can’t begin to do a better round of polishing now!
In the comments below, do share the steps you follow to edit your work before you close your eyes and hit Publish!